I spend a lot of time online. Okay, more than a lot. The point is, I get around the interwebz. Though I’ve long considered “web surfing” my primary hobby, it wasn’t until I discovered Reddit that shit got serious and my world wide diversion became a sticky web of obsession.
It began innocently enough. A few years ago I posted a video of my friend’s pet piglet, Carnitas, on YouTube. Within a week, my little video had over 250,000 views (now over 610,000). Apparently, it had been picked up by a few high-traffic sites, one of which was a tumblr called The Daily What. I began checking the site three or four times a day. After a few months of regular clicking, I noticed that most of the hilarious posts on TDW were credited to another site called Reddit.
Nine months ago, I graduated from lurker to redditor — meaning I went from passively ingesting material that made it to the “front page of the internet” to creating an account so I could contribute to the universal hive mind by commenting, voting, and posting my own original content. It wasn’t long before I realized that most online news sites get their stories straight from Reddit. For example, two days ago, I read a post about another redditor’s experience in line at LAX with Marilyn Manson, and today his chance meeting was recapped on the front page of Yahoo.
Because of the inordinate amount of time I spend clicking every blue link in my feed, I can’t help but see the rest of the world, the “real” world, through Reddit-tinted lenses. I’m so jacked in, it’s distracting. I can no longer enjoy a meal without feeling the need to post an artsy angle of my plate on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m unable to have an emotional reaction to something without picturing an appropriate and amusing reaction gif, and I’m barely able to engage in any kind of social encounter without wondering which meme best fits the situation.
When David and I were back East, he mentioned in passing that, a couple hundred years ago, it was illegal in Massachusetts to feed your servants lobster more than four times per week. At the time, we were running errands in his father’s car. Because David was busy driving, I whipped out my phone and got to Googling. I found a site that corroborated his statement and my first thought was to post it on Reddit, in the TIL (Today I Learned) thread. While David and I were waiting for our lunch to be served, I was busy on my phone, uploading the link with the description, “TIL that being served lobster every day was once considered to be ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”
Aside from knowing the news before it hits the news outlets and passing a lot of time being amused, entertained, educated, and disgusted (I learned quickly which threads not to click), there wasn’t really any quantitative value from all my reading and gawking. I had yet to find a real-world application for my excessive redditing.
While visiting David’s parents, their friend Annie invited us over for dinner. Annie’s doctor husband was back in Toronto seeing patients, but her 17-year-old son, Sammy, was staying with her at their vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard. I’d met Sammy on previous visits, but I’d never really spoken to him. Robert, David’s father, thinks the kid is genius-level brilliant and loves to engage him in conversation whenever he gets the chance, which isn’t often, because Sammy likes to hide in his room, and his infrequent social appearances are always brief and somewhat sulky.
“That kid needs to come out here,” Annie said in her thick, New York City brogue. “I’m making this chicken for him.” The rest of us would be eating scrod and mussels.
“Is this your phone?” I held up the iPhone I’d found on the counter. Annie nodded. “Great,” I said. “Leave it to me, I’ll get him out.”
I texted Sammy, said I was his mother and he better come out and say hi to the guests and get his chicken. He was quick to respond, “This can’t be my mother — she couldn’t figure out how to text.”
“This is Robert,” I texted. Sammy sent a meme with which I was very familiar — an image of Futurama’s Fry, used to represent skepticism.
“Ah, so you’re a redditor then,” I texted. For that I received the Obama Not Bad meme. “If I were texting from my own phone, I’d be meme-ing right back at you,” I wrote.
“Now I know it’s Robert. Girls don’t know this stuff,” Sammy wrote.
“Them’s fighting words,” I texted. “This is Ency.”
As I’d expected, Sammy responded, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” I’d already snapped a shot of my mother-in-law smiling and waving at Annie’s iPhone. I messaged her image; according to the Rage Comic he sent in response, it was clear that Sammy was impressed. But he had one more test: “Tell me your favorite meme and I’ll come out,” he wrote.
I remembered Annie mentioning that her youngest son had just started dating. “Overly Attached Girlfriend,” I tapped. Then I set the phone down where I’d found it and joined the others at the table.
When Sammy emerged, he looked around the room, and his eyes rested on David. “Still think it has to be a dude, huh?” I said. Sammy looked at me, seemingly for the first time. We proceeded to communicate using meme titles as metaphors. For example, I said, “You were all Conspiracy Keanu,” and Sammy would respond, “Rule number 37,” which I knew meant, “There are no girls on the internet.”
“Even girls my age don’t know about this stuff,” Sammy said. When he admitted he spent most of his time on 9gag.com, I sneered and said, “You mean Reddit’s sad little step-brother?” And so on.
When he’d finished his chicken and exhausted his interest in the novelty of an older woman who spoke his language, Sammy retreated back to his room.
Engrossed as I was in my geeky thrust and parry with Sammy, I hadn’t noticed that the rest of the table had been silently spectating, transfixed by our strange exchange. Robert looked at me as though I had just been communicating with aliens, Close Encounter style. “We’ve never seen him talk to somebody for that long,” he said.
I smiled to myself. Suddenly, all my redditing seemed not so pointless.